What is the connection between an English rabbi visiting Bradford, and Pentecost?
We tend to focus on the language and the tongues at the original Pentecost, and it leads us off in one direction, which is not wrong. But the language and the tongues are pointers towards an important truth: those who heard and were inspired at Pentecost were people quite different from one another. It is part of the theme of the whole book of Acts that the followers of the Way (as the Christian faith was originally known) would come to encompass all parts of the earth and all peoples.
There is a simple message embedded in this: God does not discriminate, and neither should we.
This is where the English rabbi in Bradford enters the scene: she related the way in which Moslems have contributed funds for the restoration (and saving) of the remaining synagogue in the city; and a dialogue of, “honest, respectful, warm, but sometimes uncomfortable questions,” in fact reflects the spirit of Pentecost: people learned that they can either seek understanding or they can accentuate differences.
Pentecost tells us that although ethnicity, culture, language and location are all important parts of us and our identity, they will always be subordinate to our status as children of God – sisters and brothers in Christ.
Since its foundation, the Church has been a diverse alliance of people from across the world. And while there may have been many ugly aspects of the church’s history, at its best, the Church remains an entity that is open, inclusive, welcoming – and questioning. As C.S. Lewis said, “When all is said (and truly said) about the divisions of Christendom, there remains, by God’s mercy, an enormous common ground.”
In this context, and in anticipation of the gift of the Spirit, Jesus offered his disciples peace. It is a peace concerned with the inner comfort, inner tranquillity and inner warmth that come from the Spirit within us when we are aligned with God’s will and accomplishing God’s purpose, when compassion and justice are at the forefront of our priorities, and we are agents of transformation in the world.
Pentecost is about a gift that demonstrates God’s transforming power in the world – by transforming us, through listening, questioning and understanding, and then using us to transform others. It is a gift that is indiscriminately and abundantly given to enable and empower us to transform the world by learning about it and serving it.
If Jews and Moslems in Bradford can seek and find understanding and respect, surely Christians, empowered by the Spirit, ought to be able to do so anywhere.